Ramadan: A day out with the construction workers at a Metro site in Kolkata

By Zaidul Haque, TwoCircles.net,

Kolkata: A large number of the contractual workers at the Metro Railway Extension project in Kolkata are Muslims from the state, who are fasting during the holy month of Ramazan, but find it extremely difficult to toil throughout the day with hungry stomach. This, when they don’t even get proper two square meal a day and are often forced have both the Sehri and Iftar at the construction site, where most of them are temporarily living.

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Kolkata was the first city in the country to have metro railway (most of it underground), but since then it could not expand a lot. A second metro line, 16.72 km long is coming up from Joka in South Kolkata to BBD Bag, which will intersect the old existing line at Park Street. The Construction work is in progress under Rail Vikash Nigam Ltd and the tender has been given to the Simplex Infrastructure. This Metro line is slatedto be finished by 2015 and hence the work work is in fully swing 24*7.

Muslim workers during roza in Metro rail project Kolkata

TwoCircles.net spent a day with the labourers at the construction sites. More than 100 workers are involved at a construction site in Behala area, most of whom are Muslims from Malda, Murshidabad and South 24 Parganas districts. They have been working at this construction site for over a year, where they are living temporarily in shanty tents and make-shift huts.

As daily wage labourers they get paid only for days they work and have no holidays. If they fall sick, and are not able to work, they won’t be paid for the day.

As it’s the month of Ramdan, most of the Muslim workers who are fasting, find it extremely difficult to work during Roza. They generally prefer beginning their days early and try to finish work hours early in the evening so that they can have their Iftar.

Muslim workers during roza in Metro rail project Kolkata

Some of the workers stop working few hours earlier as they prepare their iftar, and often in the evening, after iftar, women workers engage themselves in cooking dinner for everyone.

As most of the workers are working at the same place for over a year, they told TCN, that even last Ramazan, they observed fasts at the same place near Thakurpukur, where their huts have come up, very close to the construction site.

21 year old Dariqul Sheikh, who is originally from Jiaganj in Murshidabad, told TCN that often they eat Chapati with vegetables to break their fast that becomes both Iftar and dinner for them. He says that fasting is farz (mandatory) and hence as a devout Muslim he tries to fast for the full month.

17 year old Rafiqul Islam from a remote village in Malda district said that often they are at the construction site till late and for work and break their fast with water only. They are able to eat once they are back to their shanties after finishing work, he says.

Talking about his early life, Rafiqul says, that as a child he was admitted to a local Maktab (primary school where religious education is imparted, along with other subjects), where he learnt few smaller surahs (chapters) from Quran, but was forced to drop out to poverty.

Muslim workers during roza in Metro rail project Kolkata

Although involved in strenuous work, Rafiqul says that it’s his duty to keep fast and is confident that Allah will reward him for this.

He says that for 12 years he has been moving with his father, who is also construction labour, and is happy that now he is contributing to the family income regularly.

Rafiqul is also happy that although he could not study, his youngest sister Alima Khatun is studying, who is currently in class X.

Muhammad Sahil comes from Bhagwangola in Murshidabad. He says that every time he sits for iftar, he misses home where he often had Sharbat, along with fruits for iftar. Now, he says, on many days he breaks fasts with only chana or chura (flattened paddy).

34 year old Fatema Bibi is originally from Budgebudge in South 24 Parganas and works as helper in masonry work. She says that back home there are at least 12 members in her family and she is currently the sole bread earner in the family.

Muslim workers during roza in Metro rail project Kolkata

She tells TCN that often she works double shift to earn extra money, one from Sheir to noon and another till late evening. Asked, if she is working so hard, why does she still fast, and she he proudly replies that back home, her 10 year old son Fazlu also fast.

Like Fatema, Anjuman Bibi (30) and Sairabanu Bibi (32) say that not only they, but most of the female workers are keeping fast.

Another woman Sairabanu says that although away from home they are living in tents, but over the months they have developed bondings and they live together like a big family and often share iftar, sehri and diner.

20 year Sahil Ahmed says that they all are waiting for Eid when they all will take a break from work and go back to their respective homes after a year and celebrate with their families.

Sahil says that he was married for only six months when he came to work in Kolkata last year and since then he has not gone home. He is happy that soon he will go home and is planning to buy new cloth for his wife.

Muslim workers during roza in Metro rail project Kolkata

Most of the workers at the construction site said that the project office is generally cooperative and they allow them recess for Iftar. They also said that as they are fasting, they are not pressurised too much about the work during the month by the project office.

The workers also were grateful to their supervisor Sunil Chatterji, who, they said, had arranged for an Iftar Party on the first Friday of the month.

The workers also requested to the supervisor to give them longer breaks on Fridays, so that they can go and offer Juma prayer in the nearby mosque. The Supervisor has agreed and coming Friday they all will go to the nearby Thakupukur Pachpara Jama Masjid for the collective noon prayer.

Ramadan 1435: TCN series